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Mabs Hall was in a downward spiral before she came across the game of bridge nearly two years ago.
“I’d get up at bed at 5am in the morning, read the paper, have a cup of tea and then I’d fall to sleep in the chair again. I thought this has to stop. I have to do something or I’m going to go right under.”
Determined to change her life, Mabs walked into Brisbane City Hall’s 50 Plus Bridge Group, to give gaming a go.
“I walked in off the street because I was lonely and I was falling asleep in my chair and I thought, my grandchildren have reached their use by date, so I had to make a life.”
Over a year later, coming here twice a week has become her favourite pastime, and the actual game is only one part of it.
Sitting across Mabs is 57-year-old Anne Bradford, a recent retiree who just relocated to Brisbane with her husband a year ago.
They had never played bridge before but thought they’d give it a try to keep their brain healthy.
“It actually stimulates you because you are learning something new so I don't think it matters what game it is but I do think it matters that you keep learning because the moment you stop, it’s, you become quite insular.”
What Anne and her husband enjoy most is the fun and supportive environment.
“There are some days you go home and you've got smile soreness because you've had so many laughs and that's lovely.”
Fay Henderson is the bridge group’s coordinator and an active bridge player for the past 10 years.
“I was the one who made the tea if the family was playing cards but my husband was very competitive so I didn't compete but I enjoy it here it’s great.”
The players say they wouldn’t consider entering a professional competition, but they can still be competitive whilst having fun.
“Yes! We do our best. We try to play our hands as best as we can, and sometimes after coffee or chocolate, some people bid when they shouldn't bid at all.”
At 82, both Mabs and Fay believe you need to keep reinventing yourself to make life interesting.
“Everybody’s busy these days so that's up to us to motivate ourselves.”
“I have wonderful children who would do anything for me but I don't want to be a burden to them. I’m going to keep on soldiering on my way.”
And Fay is not about to slow down either.
“Well, I think when you stop, you lose your identity anyway and we certainly don't want to do that.”
More and more Australians over the age of fifty are playing fun activities to improve their wellbeing.
49 per cent of Australians in this age group are choosing to play video games to keep their minds active.
Bond University’s communication and media professor Jeff Brand shares his research findings based on samples from over 1,200 households.
“We know that older adults really enjoy games that are puzzle-based, that are problem-solving-based rather than those games that are action-based or adventure-based. If we understand that our number one motivation for playing after the age of 50 is to keep our mind active, it makes sense that the sorts of games that we're looking to play are those games that challenge, you know, our neuroplasticity and our cognitive abilities.”
Professor Brand’s research shows that gaming not only reduces anxiety, but it can also be positive for one’s mental, emotional and social wellbeing.
“All games have a win and lose condition and to win and to move ahead in a complex puzzle game, for example, really helps us to feel that we have capability and that we have something that is both good for us and enjoyable to do. So, our optimism and our sense of wellbeing can be increased through judicious or purposeful use of different media and video games are no different.”
Alex Yuen is the activities coordinator at Elderly Australian Chinese Homes in New South Wales.
He runs activities like bingo and mahjong to help aged care residents feel at home.
“You can’t imagine that they would like to play these but they are too lonely in the aged care home. They have too many time there.”
Alex says the games are mostly designed to keep the body and brain active.
“Most of the elderly when they join the aged care home, they have very little activities so their muscle would be less powerful, and also they might see things not as good as before. So, in order to maintain their physical health and also the mental health, we will introduce some games for those elderly, for example, bingo games that would give them opportunity to coordinate their eye and their hand.”
Back at Brisbane’s 50 Plus Centre, Mabs and Fay are having a quick morning tea break in between bridge games.
They encourage people to give the game a try.
“We learn because everybody starts off from whatever they do…They can’t do it when they start. And then if you don't have a go, you’ll never never know. That’s right!”